Using your Non-Dominant Hand

Last night my writer’s group was talking about whether or not we, as novelists, were more comfortable writing by flying by the seat of our pants, unsure even where the plot is headed, or whether we preferred instead to structure our work with a tight outline, then fill in the gaps. The one we are comfortable with, Justin Fike said, is like our dominant hand. (A third way emerged, which is to write fiction by taking copious research notes.)

Justin Fike then urged us to set goals that would help us increase our ambidextrousness.

The image that came to mind was that of a baseball player learning to use a glove. My left is my dominant, so my right hand is my glove hand. I am one of those people who is extremely dominant on one side. My right hand is so bad that I have trouble typing the O and P keys on a keyboard (making matters worse, I damaged my right pinkie when I was 14 years old). But when I was only 4 or 5, I learned to put a baseball glove on the right hand and catch with it. I can’t throw for anything with that hand, but I can snap that glove shut on a ball. And for playing baseball, that’s the main thing I had to learn with the non-dominant hand.

Writers have to learn at least some competency with their non-dominant hand. Your dominant one is fun, easy and relaxing. For me, I can just get an idea and take off writing. Coming back to the structure part is work, takes concentration, and isn’t fun. At first, it’s awkward, just the way a kid feels when you first put that glove on their non-dominant hand and tell them to catch with it.

I suspect even if you’re not a writer, whatever job you have there are aspects that come more easily than others. Some people say to focus on your strengths, which probably has some value in certain seasons of life. But no baseball coach ever told a kid not to worry about catching and just focus on throwing. That would be stupid. You can’t really throw if you haven’t caught the ball.